by Gary Dennis Jones
In feudal times, so the story goes, there were two rival kingdoms, one of which sent out a messenger to spy on the other.
When the spy got to this kingdom, the inhabitants were all a-flurry, being in the midst of forming an army to kill the rats that were infesting the area, spreading untold disease.
But this spy utterly failed in his mission because he did not get his facts straight. He merely heard something about the forming of an army and the killing of rats. So without further investigation, he proceeded to jump to the easiest, most accessible conclusion available to him. When he reported his findings to his king, he said that those people were forming an army "to kill us like rats."
The result? Needless to say, it was rather severe for the prevailing circumstances of that time. Because of the spy's faulty information, these two small kingdoms went to war with one another, no doubt causing an insurmountable degree of pain and anguish, grief and tears -- as much or more than would have been caused by the rats. All this because someone was too lazy and self-satisfied and in too much of a hurry to bother with checking the facts of the case in question.
"Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good," stated the beloved apostle Paul (I Thessalonians 5:21). Carefully note what he told us should be a guiding principle of our lives: "Prove (confirm, verify, make sure of) all things (not just one or two; not just a few; but every single one of them); hold fast to (make them firm and sure in your life, do not let go of) that which is good (after you have done all that is in your power to make sure that it really is good and fine and acceptable to the all-powerful and benevolent God of Heaven)." Not only is this a mandatory requirement for the Christian where all spiritual affairs are involved, but it has a very important application to the physical world also, as the opening illustration points out.
John the beloved reaffirmed this high principle of thorough investigation (I John 4:1) with the statement, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." That is true, we know. We can see the proof of it all around us each day of our lives.
Paul, the apostle, made this affirmation (II Corinthians 13:1), "This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." On another occasion, he said (I Timothy 5:19), "Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses." As the Beck translation gives it, the accusation must be "supported by two or three witnesses." An accusation must not be allowed to stand in and of itself. Without some kind of meaningful support, it is at enmity with truth and logic. Without proof, it is only so much "blowing into the wind."
This principle of requiring two or three witnesses was not something new by any means, for the Hebrew writer noted that "He that despised Moses' law died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses" (Hebrews 10:28). That there must be two or three witnesses to establish the facts if a given matter is also indicated in the Old Testament (for example, Deuteronomy 17:6), but notice that one witness could not convict a person. "At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death."
We should here recall that a witness cannot be one who thinks he knows the facts because of what "they all say," or because of some conclusion he has reached through a very limited knowledge of the matter. A witness is one who has personally observed the facts of the situation himself and is able to testify of his first-hand knowledge of them. Hear-say and popular belief are not enough in any situation.
This is like many of the street-corner facts and old wives' tales that we hear so many times. They sound good, but there is not much truth to be found in them.
Two men on a sporting trip found themselves in the Florida everglades about nightfall. Apparently, one of them was a native whereas the other was not. As so often happens, the one who was just visiting the area had heard of "a dandy way to protect himself in the everglades at night."
So he said to his companion, "I've heard that the alligators won't bother you if you carry a lantern. Is there anything to that?"
"Well," began his friend, "that is true all right. Of course, a lot depends on how fast you carry it."
Again we can see that one can have considerable difficulties if he just accepts something as true without bothering to seek the proof of it.
Often the reputations of one or more persons will be involved in the stories that get about on the wings of idle gossip. Once a reputation has been lost through carelessness or maliciousness, there is absolutely no way it can be regained, at least not in the area of the country where the damage occurred. If such as this happens to an individual, his only recourse is to move on to another location.
The story has been told of one who said to the hotel clerk in a small town, "I'm new here in town and find myself in need of a criminal lawyer. Do you know of one around here?"
"There are four in town that most of us are pretty sure of," stated the hotel man, "but none of us has been able to prove anything on them as yet."
At such times like this, one may do more harm than good by speaking out. Admittedly, the reverse can be true also, but one truly should be sure of his facts before speaking. Though he may feel it his duty to say something, he may be doing a grave injustice to all concerned by giving vent to his suspicions. Remember, the adverse effects of such are quite irreversible.
Christ has said that "Ye shall know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16). Therefore, if one has not observed any fruits or he is uncertain about the meaning of the fruits that he has observed, it is the better part of wisdom to keep one's mouth shut.
Most fitting for this study are the words of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 7:1-3), "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" The Williams translation puts it, "Stop criticizing others, so that you may not be criticized yourselves . . ." It puts me in remembrance of the statement of Arnold Bennett (1867-1931), an English novelist and playwright, who observed that "It is well when judging a friend, to remember that he is judging you with the same godlike and superior impartiality." Unfortunately, there is all too much truth contained in this short, concise, rather sharp statement.
It is so much better to practice what Jesus speaks of (Luke 6:37), "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven."
One must agree with seventh-century French writer Jean de La Bruyere that, "It is a great misfortune neither to have enough wit to talk well nor enough judgment to be silent." Frank McKinney ("Kin") Hubbard observed that "One of the commonest ailments of the present day is the premature formation of opinions." And Russian novelist Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoi once noted of another that "He never chooses an opinion; he just wears whatever happens to be in style." These statements all hit home in our current society.
Such things lead one easily into the propaganda trap of believing whatever someone else wants you to believe. This kind of thing would make man, not a thinking being as created by the God of this universe but actually little more than a robot. This must not be. God will surely not hold guiltless the one who tampers so unfeelingly with His creation.
In truth, it becomes us to remember the conclusion reached long ago by King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 12:13), "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." The apostle John said on this same matter, "And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him. And thereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us" (I John 3:24).
That we might know what commandments he has given us, we must study (II Timothy 2:15). And not just a merely superficial study of his word, but we must "Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good."